Top 5: Afternoons in Iowa

Twenty years ago this week I was celebrating my first anniversary on the radio in Clinton, Iowa, population 30,000. I didn’t yet know it was the last stop of my full-time radio career, although in retrospect it’s hard for me to imagine where I thought I might go from there. But I wasn’t worried about that in 1991, not yet anyway. It occurs to me now that I was living in the moment, not thinking too hard about where I’d been or where I was going. What a concept.

We had live, local shows in the morning and afternoon on the FM side, but we got the rest of our programming via satellite. Eventually, I would put the satellite PD on speed-dial. I called the guy a lot—frequently to ask him what the hell he was thinking. On his show, which followed mine, he liked to count down the top five requests of the week on Fridays—which seemed like the dumbest damn thing in the world given that we didn’t play requests during our local shows, and we couldn’t during our satellite programming. I once called to ask what was up with the midday guy on the service, longtime Los Angeles jock Charlie Fox, who once went for months without saying anything beyond song title, artist name, and positioning liners. In response to my question, the PD laughed and said something to the effect of “Nobody knows what’s up with Charlie.” Even at his most minimal, Fox was better than the satellite’s morning jock, whose show we carried for an hour before and and hour after our local morning show. That guy was three or four of the worst jocks I’ve ever heard in my life.

Our local morning guy was extremely good. He was one of two people on the radio in the early 90s who would make me laugh out loud regularly. (Bob Collins at WGN was the other.) We didn’t get along very well, however. I was the program director, and I sometimes had to resort to mind games and/or subterfuge to get him to do what I wanted him to do. It was exhausting, but as so frequently happens in showbiz, talent cancels out almost everything else.

I did the afternoon show. After dealing with a day full of programming minutiae, it’s a fine thing to go into a room, shut the door, and be alone for a while. I still have a few airchecks from those shows, and they’re OK. Not great, but not horrible either: decent, workmanlike, small-market radio. Here are five songs I was playing on those shows in the spring of 1991, from the Cash Box chart dated March 23, 1991, with Twitter-esque commentary.

2. “One More Try”/Timmy T (holding at 2). Even though “One More Try” was a Number-One song in Billboard, you don’t remember it, do you? Me neither.

12. “Where Does My Heart Beat Now”/Celine Dion (down from 7). Her first really big hit. The bombast is there, but there was no reason at this point to imagine her as the diva she would become.

20. “Mercy Mercy Me”-“I Want You”/Robert Palmer (up from 23). “Mercy Mercy Me” is a better song than almost everything else on the radio that spring. “I Want You” is not. Here’s the video:

21. “Baby Baby”/Amy Grant (up from 26). Would eventually be burned crispy by radio overkill. Listening now, it sounds as dated as Vanilla Ice.

87. “More Than Words”/Extreme (debut). See previous entry for Amy Grant. (Hear it here.)

In the spring of 1991, more than two years of my Clinton career were still ahead. I’m far enough removed from it now to look back on it fondly. We did some good things, had some fun, endured some frustrations—in other words, it was pretty much the way life is, everywhere.

One response

  1. I was in the Army in 1991. As a result, much of this era’s music has been a little bit hazy to me. On the bright side, thanks to my time in boot camp during 1990 (where we weren’t allowed to listen to music) I totally missed Vanilla Ice’s 15 minutes of fame and a lot of MC Hammer’s as well. After training was over and I was settling into my service job, I got to listen to the radio again, but there was a “sameness” about every song I heard. Heavy rock had degenerated into cartoonish “hair bands,” The R&B ballads were way too soft, there seemed to be a standard drum machine beat that was used for every other song, Michael Bolton annoyed me further with each new release, even the new stuff from REM, Glenn Frey and Bob Seger were disappointments.

    That’s not to say that there weren’t some gems to be found on the air. I really liked “More Than Words” until I had to hear it about 3,000 times (which you alluded to). “You Don’t Have to Go Home Tonight” by the Triplets was a nice little song, as was Tara Kemp’s “Hold You Tight.” However, the few gems were buried by the garbage that passed for popular music in 1991. “Rico Suave,” anyone? No? How about Color Me Badd? Mariah and Whitney trying to outdo each other in holding a screeching high note?

    This was the pop music landscape that was primed to have Nirvana sweep in later in the year. In a different respect, maybe the suck of that era was a benefit to me, as I found Rhino’s Have a Nice Day CD series about that time and began compiling them. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so attracted to the music of the 70s if contemporary music of the 90s hadn’t been so insipidly awful. Yes, a lot of 70s material was bad, but there’s a wide berth between awesomely bad and insipidly awful.

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